Authorship Not Taught and Not Caught in Undergraduate Research Experiences at a Research University

Science and Engineering Ethics 26 (5):2555-2599 (2020)
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Abstract

This grounded study investigated the negotiation of authorship by faculty members, graduate student mentors, and their undergraduate protégés in undergraduate research experiences at a private research university in the northeastern United States. Semi-structured interviews using complementary scripts were conducted separately with 42 participants over a 3 year period to probe their knowledge and understanding of responsible authorship and publication practices and learn how faculty and students entered into authorship decision-making intended to lead to the publication of peer-reviewed technical papers. Herein the theoretical model for the negotiation of authorship developed through the analysis of these interviews is reported. The model identifies critical causal and intervening conditions responsible for the coping strategies faculty and students employ, which, in our study, appear to often produce unfortunate consequences for all involved. The undergraduate student researchers and their graduate student mentors interviewed in this study exhibited a limited understanding of authorship and the requirements for authorship in their research groups. The power differential between faculty and students, the students’ limited epistemic development, the busy-ness of the faculty, and the faculty’s failure to prioritize authorship have been identified as key factors inhibiting both undergraduate and graduate students from developing a deeper understanding of responsible authorship and publication practices. Implications for graduate education and undergraduate research are discussed, and strategies for helping all students to develop a deeper understanding of authorship are identified.

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